Want A Good Tip?

The other day I took one of my sons to a team party at a local sports bar. We all arrived separately and I did not even sit with the rest of the group because I had a book that I needed to finish in order to complete a review on time. My son wandered by my high topped table every twenty minutes, grabbed a French fry and then went back to shooting pool with his friends. I sipped unsweetened iced tea and read. I was clearly not part of any group but somehow, the server was able to figure out that my son played on the same team that was celebrating so, when I received my bill, I found that I had been charged a mandatory 18% gratuity because I was part of a group of six or more patrons.

I was more than a bit flabbergasted, not because 18% of my bill was all that much, but because the server, who had been quite inattentive, had the nerve to add the mandatory gratuity even though I was seated on the far side of the restaurant away from all of the noise. I did not complain, however, because I would have given the server more than 18% anyway, since the math at 21% would have allowed me to leave $15 without asking for change and because I routinely tip above 20% when I take up a table without ordering anything.

Forcing an 18% gratuity on an unsuspecting patron may be one way to get more of a gratuity, but if you are a food server, here are some better ways:

Give Good Service

OK. This should go without saying but as a food server, you really need to know when someone is sitting at one of your tables and you need to get to the table within a minute or two of a patron sitting down. Keep an eye on beverages. If you work in a restaurant that offers free refills, don’t make the patron ask for a refill. Keep the glasses full. If a meal is taking longer than expected, keep the patron informed. Lastly, don’t make your patron hunt you down to get the bill.

Understand Allergy Concerns

If a patron asks you whether there are peanut products or shellfish in a dish, don’t respond with a casual “I don’t think so” or, worse, a blank stare coupled with a confused “I don’t know.” If a diner asks about peanuts, shellfish or other ingredients, chances are good that they have a food allergy — in many cases a food allergy that could be life threatening. You need to be 100% sure of the ingredients — including the risk of cross contamination — before you respond to a question about ingredients. If you don’t know the answer, explain that you will check with the head of the kitchen to find out.

Don’t Call me “Hon”

I answer to many things, but “Hon” is not one of them. Unless you are the spouse of a patron, such a familiar reference is inappropriate. You don’t have to call me “Sir” but you should not cross the line into too much familiarity either. Also, please do not sit at my table when you take my order.

Make Sure My Order is Correct

I know a lot of restaurants have one person take an order and others serve it. Even if you are not bringing the meal to my table, you should still visit the table quickly to make sure that everything is as it should be.

Remember Me

A server who remembers me from a previous visit is usually going to get a better tip even if everything else at the restaurant goes wrong with the meal.

But Don’t Assume I Will Always Order the Same Thing

I often order the same thing when I go to a familiar eatery, but not always. It is wonderful that you remember my preferences, but please ask me before you put in my order. (I used to love the New York Diner in Watertown Square, Watertown, MA when I was in college. I will always remember that the woman who worked the counter always remembered everyone there after one visit. One day I went in about 4 years after I had graduated and I sat down at the counter wanting a milk shake, but before I had even gotten the stool warm, I received a plate with 3 eggs, home fried potatoes and toast. I enjoyed them and then I ordered the milk shake that I wanted)

Be Mindful of Children at Other tables

My kids behave in restaurants. Some other children do not. If I am in a restaurant, I do not want to be bothered by children at other tables and I will notice if you are able to bring those other children something — anything — that will calm them down. Of course, I know that is not your job, but it will certainly enhance your tip.

Don’t Serve Anyone to Intoxication

I do not drink alcohol but I do not mind others enjoying a cocktail, a glass of wine or a beer. Nevertheless, I do not want to endure anyone who is intoxicated. Know when to cut off your patrons. Chances are good that the law requires you to do that anyone.

Compensate Me for Delays

If the kitchen takes too long with my meal, talk to your manager and find a way to compensate me for my time. If one meal is late, make that meal complimentary. If we have a really horrific experience, get the manager to make the entire meal complimentary. Do whatever it takes to get me to come back to your restaurant, whether that means explaining the delay or giving me value for the cost of my time or the bad experience I had.

Don’t Ask Me if I want Change When I Pay

If I want you to “keep the change” I will certainly let you know. I recall a few years ago going into a restaurant by myself when I was on a business trip. The bill was $21. I gave the server $40 when I paid and the server, after looking to see how much I had provided, asked me if I wanted change. I was shocked. As a result, the server, who would have received a $5 tip, received a $4 tip.

What can a server do to increase the amount that you tip? What server behavior will actually cause you to lower your tip?

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22 Responses to Want A Good Tip?

  1. frank says:

    This is by far the worst submission on this site to date.

  2. Ann says:

    You pretty much hit all bases! LOL

  3. Matt says:

    i most of the time tip more than the norm gratuity of 15%. i dont mind over tipping if they were good to me.

  4. simpleyme says:

    I do not quite get the mandatory tip on groups,are they saying groups are such a bother if you must come we will make you pay?

  5. Nicole says:

    You’re nicer than me b/c I think that waiter was rude, and I would have let him know that. It’s one thing for you to voluntarily pay 20% gratuity if he/she treated your son’s table right, but to tack it on to your bill too?!? Sounds like he/she’s fishing for extra cash but really cheating him/herself in the long run b/c that would be the last time I’d do business with that restaurant. Way to keep your cool! LOL

  6. Simpleyme — Most restaurants in my area automatically add an 18 to 20% gratuity for groups of 6 (sometimes 8) or more. They usually do not highlight this so I have known many people to unwittingly pay the mandatory 18 to 20% and then add another 15 to 20% of discretionary tip!

    Frank — I am sorry that you feel as you do. Of course, I welcome criticism as much as praise so please feel free to offer your thoughts in greater detail.

  7. Shelly says:

    Communication and Honesty are KEY to good service! The server most definitely knows WHY your meal was late, for example, and I, for one, would like to hear that conveyed to me, rather than hearing, “It’ll just be a minute…”. If I hear there was an accident in the kitchen and they dropped three dozen eggs, I’ll be far more forgiving if my breakfast is late than I would be otherwise.

    And the food allergy thing–I can’t believe a server would not know why a patron would ask that question, and if the don’t know the answer, their answer should be “Let me find out for you” and they should do it right away.

    I’m used to a fair amount of being called “hon”–in fact, when I lived in the Deep South, a lot of female servers called me “Sugar”, which was charming in a local-flavor sort of way. This does not bother me very much…

    But I do hate it when they ask if I want change back–what an assumption on their part! Rude.

  8. Carol says:

    The change thing irks me as well. What’s even worse is when they give you change and only give you large bills (like a $10 instead of a $5 and 5 $1s). They are hoping that you feel foolish asking for ones and don’t…and give them a 5 or 10 as a tip. Grrr…

  9. spicoli says:

    As long as I get my food and I enjoy it, I will usually tip at least 15%. I know the server does not control the quality of the food or the time that it takes to come out of the kitchen, but I guess most of us tip the server based on kitchen performance, anyway.

  10. Neil says:


    As an infrequent visitor to the US from England I do find very obvious requests for tips a bit offputting. Whilst I do tip good service (often 20% to try and lay to rest the thing about English people not tipping) I like to make my own decision based on how good the service is.

    Here in the UK restaurants will often add the standard 10-12% for big groups. I presume that they do this becuase people look at the large amount of money that a % of a big bill represents and tend to trim it down a bit.

    In this case the server seems to have been a bit rude. It’s often the case that making a point about this sort of thing ruins YOUR experience, so often not worth it.

  11. Patti says:

    I would have given her the 18% and make a little note thanking her for that charge since you normally tip more than that, but since she only wanted 18%, that is all she was getting. She might think next time she pulls that again.

  12. Justin says:

    The required tip for large groups has always made me wonder why they get to make more money off the group. They never seem to go the the group table more often then they go to a table with family of 4. Most of the times, the larger groups are so busy conversating that they don’t even realize that their food is taking a little longer then normal. I don’t know, always thought they should be tipped on service, not because you have more friends.

  13. Jackie says:

    I agree with a lot of this article – but I’m going to have to disagree about a few things.

    1)Unruly children are not the server’s responsibility. Not only is unruly subjective, but the only real response a restaurant has is to ask those patrons to leave. I would never, ever either decrease a tip because the server couldn’t succeed where the parents haven’t bothered nor would I increase a tip because the server just happened to be lucky enough to find something that occupies the kids and doesn’t step on any parental toes.

    2)The allergy thing. Yes, the server should know all of the ingredients. However, if your allergy is severe enough to fear cross-contamination you should call ahead of time, speak to a manager and do your homework before entering the restaurant. Do not fault your server for not knowing all of the ins and outs of YOUR allergy.

    Otherwise, good article. Good service and communication goes a long way toward making a pleasant dining experience and a nice tip.

  14. Carolie says:

    I think you’re right on the money — except for one thing. I completely agree that a waiter should know when to cut off a customer who’s had too much to drink. Unfortunately, sometimes the drink that “pushes them over the edge” into obnoxious and belligerent behavior is the one served BEFORE the behavior gets ugly, BEFORE the server has a reason to cut the customer off. And forget having some kind of limit — I know people who turn into idiots on drink #2, and others who are fine well into drink #6.

    I had to laugh at Carol’s comment, #8 above! Contrary to her preference, I absolutely hate it when I get lots of $1 bills in change…if I want my change broken into small bills, I will ask for it! Perhaps I already have enough $1 bills to make the tip…I don’t want more! I prefer to have the money in my wallet in a few larger bills rather than a larger handful of small bills. So, if Carol and I were both in the same restaurant, a waiter would certainly make one of us angry with our change, no matter which way he or she brings it back!

  15. spicoli says:

    I tend to base my tips on whether I like the server or not. THey don’t control the quality of the food but they do determine whether or not I feel welcome and appreciated.

  16. Gail says:

    Your son wandering by grabbing a French Fry certainly shouldn’t have qualified you for the group tip. Was your bill combined with theirs? Doesn’t sound like it. I remember one of my last big dinners out with co-workers. The bills came I saw immediately that there had been the large group surcharge (and yet again no extra service). As my co-workers started pulling money out to leave cash tips, I realized none of them had noticed that they had already been charged for that and had to tell them to put the money back in their purses. Some still seemed to think there was a necessity of leaving a cash tip.

    One of the saddest things about tips my son experienced. The two of us went to a restaurant had a meal which I put on my debit card Including the tip. The waitress was a classmate of my son and she had the gall to complain to him at school that I hadn’t left her a tip! So here he was a school having this girl complain about this and who knows how many other students she complained to making his reputation worse (he is autistic had very poor relationship skills while in school). When he told me what was happening, I told him to tell her that the tip had been on the charge and to ask her boss where it was. Guess what? After hearing where her tip had been left, she suddenly remembered getting it.

  17. David G. Mitchell says:

    Gail — That is really a sad story. That waitress should not have spoken so rashly to your son about an issue — even a false issue — that she thought she had with you. I hope she at least apologized to your son, and she should apologize to you if you go to the restaurant again.

    I always try to give the server a cash tip, even if I pay be credit card. I also always try to put the tip into the servers hand to make sure he or she gets it.

  18. persephone says:

    To a certain extent, I agree with spicoli. I try not to punish a server for the quality of the food. At the same time, if the food is delivered cold or is otherwise compromised because of bad service, I will cut the tip in a big way!

  19. Susan says:

    This is a topic well-worth mentioning, since tipping has become so prevalent in our society. There are tip jars at coffee shops, self-serve restaurants, etc. so it surely deserves recognition on a site dedicated to frugal living. I was at a cafeteria the other week, where I stood in line and was served food. It is now customary for the people who walk around and offer to fill your water glass to expect a tip. The guy who was practically doing stand-up comedy expected me to tip him but I really was quite happy to read my paper and eat without the entertainment. I love to laugh but I didn’t pay for my food and then be expected to pay for the comedian.I don’t receive a tip at my job and don’t feel that all establishments serving any kind of food or drink should expect tipping as a standard practice. Good service definitely deserves 20%+, but just because someone hands me a muffin and a cup of coffee, I don’t think I should be expected to throw in more money.

  20. Susan says:

    Please excuse my overuse of the word “expect” in the #19 comment. Maybe it’s because that’s how I feel lately, I’m expected to give money for the most minimal of service everywhere I go.

  21. Tightwad says:

    David, “HON”, ya gotta lighten up!
    (as Clairee said to Annelle….)
    Hey…. you’re cute

  22. Brian says:

    There was a time at where I work when a group of 14 came in and we always put two servers on a party of 8 or more and gratuity is added on as well. So everything went well with the dinner one guy said these servers did a great job. So the nieve servers didn’t put gratuity and that guy that gave the compliment didn’t pay another friend did. The total of the bill was about $200 and that guy left $4! So they got screwed over so it always takes one ass hole to ruin it for the rest of you and maybe you’ll see why we do put grat on parties! I would like to hear comments on what you all think about that and this did not happen to me it was two other servers and they both are good servers…

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